The April 2009 attack on the U.S. freight vessel Maersk-Alabama reinvigorated America’s awareness of the threats of piracy. In 2010, piracy continued to rise with ships reporting 445 attacks and pirates hijacking 53 ships, capturing 1,181 seafarers and killing eight.
This steadily increasing global threat has led to unprecedented international cooperation as maritime partners worldwide are voluntarily collaborating at all levels to prevent, respond and prosecute acts of piracy.
“While much has been done involving military coordination, prosecution, and the self-protection of shipping, the threat of piracy continues and is evolving, so our work is obviously not done,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Cook, director of Prevention Policy at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.
As a maritime security leader, the U.S. Coast Guard is fully engaged. Our men and women are not only working side-by-side with military forces to respond to acts of piracy but they are also teaming up with maritime partners worldwide to proactively deter, mitigate and prevent attacks before they occur.
An active member on the international Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and co-chair, with the Maritime Administration, a working group to improve industry awareness, the U.S. Coast Guard is closely collaborating with countries, organizations and commercial shipping companies to enhance counter-piracy capabilities. One result of the Contact Group’s work was the industry developed Best Management Practices. Distributed widely through hardcopy and the internet, BMPs outline practical measures for ships to avoid, deter or delay piracy attacks.
“BMP development, revision and implementation has turned into a well-oiled machine of continuous improvement,” said Cmdr. Lee Boone, chief of U.S. Vessel Compliance at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters. “The ongoing dissemination, implementation and evaluation of BMPs relies on the active participation of our industry partners from international shipping associations. We are working with other flag states, both through the International Maritime Organization and the Contact Group, to encourage active compliance with BMPs and other counter-piracy guidance, which continues to be one of the most effective preventative tools against piracy.”
Using its authority from the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the U.S. Coast Guard requires U.S. flagged vessels to have a thorough vessel security plan, based on an extensive vulnerability assessment, to prevent piracy attacks. The U.S. Coast Guard has also produced a series of port security advisories to assist U.S. flag vessel operators in complying with its counter-piracy requirements.
“U.S. Coast Guard leadership in maritime security regulation and oversight of the U.S. flag fleet is the gold standard to which all flag states should aspire,” said Donna Hopkins, coordinator, Counter Piracy and Maritime Security, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
While MTSA authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard regulatory oversight of the U.S. commercial vessel industry and foreign flag vessels operating in U.S. waters, authority over recreational vessels is limited, particularly when they are not operating in U.S. waters. In light of the increasingly aggressive nature of pirates, including the recent attack on the sailing vessel Quest where four Americans were killed, mariners who navigate high-risk waters must exercise caution and educate themselves on the dangers of piracy and avoid the area if at all possible.
The U.S. Coast Guard recently released a Notice to Mariners strongly advising yachts and sailing craft against operation in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Somali Basin. Several other organizations provide similar information and guidance for recreational boaters who may consider transiting high-risk areas including the International Sailing Federation and European Naval Forces’ Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa.
To read more about the U.S. Coast Guard’s program for piracy prevention, including the above mentioned notice to mariners, port security advisories and warnings, go to our Homeport website. You can also click here for more Coast Guard Compass stories on the ongoing fight against piracy.